Some of the problems plaguing mankind:
- Extreme poverty and starvation. Basically, any time people are literally starving to death, or facing the type of extreme poverty that exists in such places, that should be a grave cause for concern.
- High cost of living. This causes, or can contribute to, many other problems: hypertension, stress, poor diet, obesity, addiction, suicide, lack of concern about more serious issues, lack of concern about others, homelessness, lack of medical coverage, working two jobs (or more), and so forth. High cost of living is a killer – it’s killing us, and the planet. We need to downsize our materialistic aspirations.
- Debt (federal, state, county, city, corporate, individual, mortgage, credit card, college) is a killer, too. People refer to our “standard of living,” but I call it a “standard of borrowing.” (For example: usdebtclock.org)
- In government, there is so much abuse of power, corruption, dishonesty, nepotism, cronyism, graft, and political pandering, that people seldom, if ever, get the kind of government they deserve.
- Our educational system isn’t anything like what I believe it should be. There are so many changes I would like to see instituted, that it’s hard to know where to even begin.
- The news media, too, isn’t living up to its responsibilities. Part of its role should be to inform and educate the public – in as honest and unbiased a way as possible – and to provide a forum for proposing robust, substantive solutions. Still, despite its shortcomings, I can appreciate a sentiment expressed by Thomas Jefferson: “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.”
- While I share the sentiment, expressed by Anne Frank, that people are basically “good at heart,” society, itself, isn’t living up to its responsibilities. We are a nation that is affluent and superficial. Entertainment and comfort fill most of our free time. And who buys all those gas-guzzling SUVs I see everywhere I look? It reminds me of a fitting proverb: “In an avalanche, every snowflake pleads not guilty.”
- Violence is a huge problem in the world – murder, torture, rape, assault, armed robbery, gang violence, organized crime, bullying, and so forth. In fact, I remember reading back in 2003, that “Since John Lennon was shot and killed in New York, in December of 1980, more than half a million Americans have been killed by guns. That’s more than were killed during World War II.”
But I would expand this category to also include war, genocide, state-sponsored torture and violence, and the perpetual denial of equal rights and basic human needs, all around the world. Women still suffer from great inequality and injustice, despite the fact they often make up a majority of the population. And despite the fact that if gays and lesbians constituted a separate, independent nation, it would be the fourth largest in the world, by the end of the first year of the new millennium (2001), only one country in the world (the Netherlands) had taken steps to legalize gay marriage. We also live in an age where, for example, people are still often judged by the color of their skin, rather than by the content of their character. [This paragraph should be aligned below the paragraph above it.]
- Nuclear arms proliferation. As time passes, more and more countries acquire the means to produce nuclear weapons. If this continues, it’s only a matter of time before such weapons are used again. Why are world leaders dragging their feet on this issue? Such weapons can obliterate an entire city, in the virtual blink of an eye.
- Lack of reverence and respect for nature. Lack of devotion to environmental preservation and protection. And our flippant disregard for other species.
- Shortsightedness. Lack of long view future planning.
But I believe it all boils down to this:
- All in all, the two biggest problems in the world, are: (a) man’s inhumanity to man, and (b) man’s desecration of the planet.
That said, I make no secret of the fact that it is “b” that concerns me the most – comparatively speaking, “a” is a very simple problem to fix.
Every drop of water we drink, every molecule of oxygen we breathe, every bit of food we eat, every person we’ve ever known, or will know, in short, everything – including life itself – is only made possible because we live on a planet that is capable of supporting life. This is something we should be deeply, deeply thankful for, and appreciative of; but instead, just look at how we treat the Earth:
We pollute the air, water and land. Every major ecosystem in the world is in decline. The ozone shield is depleting. Temperatures worldwide are increasing. The ice caps are melting. New viruses are emerging. Seas are getting rougher (strong microseisms are increasing). Wave heights are increasing. Sea levels are rising. There is more coastal flooding. Ocean currents are slowing. Weather patterns are changing. Dramatic changes in ocean salinity have accelerated. Aquatic oxygen levels have diminished. Coral reefs are dying. Atmospheric hydroxyl radical (HO) levels are falling. The ionosphere is shrinking. The stratosphere is cooling. Precipitation has become acidic. Lakes are dephospherizing. Invasive species are driving out indigenous species. Days are growing dimmer (up to 10 percent less sunlight). Municipal, hospital, industrial, nuclear, military, incinerator, and farm and animal waste, is accumulating. We’re overdependent upon a meat-based diet. Water shortages are increasing. We’re overpumping our aquifers, overirrigating, overfarming, overgrazing, overfishing, overtrawling.
We perhaps already have what could be described as a full-occupancy planet, and yet we’re continuing to add over 200,000 people a day – that’s over 2 people per second! But as bad as that is, just try to imagine what would happen, with respect to overpopulation, if we were to reach another major medical milestone (or perhaps a combination of several major medical breakthroughs)– through the burgeoning field of stem-cell research, for example – that doubles average life expectancy, once again.
And, although it would be ecologically disastrous, if the Western standard of living were successfully exported to the poorest nations of the world, that is exactly the direction in which the world is heading. The growth paradigm is the paradigm we live by. It is like the proverbial flame; and we are the enchanted moth.
Be sure to also read the Underlying Causes and Solutions sections of this website.
From among the thousands and thousands of articles and sources I have in my collection, here below are some examples:
First, here’s something new (added Nov. 20, 2020)
When I put this website up — close to seven years ago — I used mostly old sources. That shouldn’t really matter. Because not a week goes by where I haven’t seen more and more articles, news items and studies being published, which dovetail perfectly with what’s said on this Problems page — or with the Nowhere on our radar page, or with the Philanthropy page. It would be a full-time job, just trying to keep up with posting and writing about all those new articles, news items and studies which buttress the arguments I’ve made on those pages. Nevertheless, since I’ve revamped most of the pages of this website, I felt I should add something here as well. So, before we get to the bullet list below, I am adding one more source: an article that appeared in The Guardian. It makes some illuminating points.
This is the article I am referencing: “Humans just 0.01% of all life but caused the loss of 83% of all wild animals — study” The Guardian.com (May 21, 2018). This article, written by Damian Carrington, The Guardian’s Environment editor, reports on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Here are some of the study’s findings, according to this article. Our species makes up a mere 0.01% of all life on the planet and yet we’ve “caused the loss of 83 percent of wild animals” — and about 50% of all plants. This refers not to extinction, but rather to biomass.
It also states that “Of all the mammals on Earth, 96% are livestock and humans,” whereas “only 4% are wild mammals.” Farmed poultry, it asserts, “makes up 70% of all birds on the planet.” According to the study, 60% of all mammals on this planet are livestock (mostly cattle and pigs). These numbers are shocking, if accurate. It would mean this planet has basically become a meat freezer.
The article also cites a 2014 study which estimates about half of this planet’s animals have been lost, just within the previous 50 years alone. And as you swallow that thought, consider that we’re adding some 1,500,000 more of our species to this planet every 7 days.
Now, here is the original bullet list
- Writing in his 1992 book Earth in the Balance, Al Gore pointed out (on page 308) that “the world is adding the equivalent of one China’s worth of people every ten years” and “one New York City’s worth every month.” He states that if these increases continue, the consequences will be “unimaginable.”
Though the rate of increase has slowed down since the time that was written, whether we’re adding another China every ten years, or every fifteen, has no bearing on the fact that is way too many people to add, especially in so very short a space of time.
How long does it take to add one million people to the total world population – yes, factoring in the death rate (and I hope you are sitting down when you read this): four and a half days. That’s right, the world’s population is increasing at the rate of 1,000,000 people, every 108 hours. I learned that while watching Thom Hartmann interviewing Alan Weisman [“Conversations with Great Minds P1 – Alan Weisman – Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth” ConversationsWithGreatMinds.com]. In that interview, Weisman spoke about how something he had written in his previous book, The World Without Us, became the inspiration for his next book, Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? And again, I’ll point out that while the rate of population increase may have since slowed down, it doesn’t make any difference, whether, for example, it’s every 108 hours, or every 138, it’s still too many people – before, during, and after, the elapse of those hours.
- This comes from a 1988 article in The Pittsburgh Press (Stan Lehman, “Burning Issue: Brazil’s clearing of jungle sparks global warming,” 6 Nov.: B6): “The World Bank has estimated that since 1978, slash-and-burn land clearing practices have leveled” an area of the Amazon rain forest larger than the size of California. And this was accomplished in just one ten-year period!
- Another, more current article, states that the Amazon rain forest “loses an area the size of New Jersey every year to clear-cutting and timbering.” (Larry Rohter, “Brazil Gambles on Monitoring As Loggers Advance in Amazon,” New York Times 14 Jan. 2007: 1)
- Fifty million rainforest acres are lost annually, according to the National Academy of Science. Twenty percent of coral reefs have been lost since 1980. Another 20 percent have been badly damaged. And 35 percent of the world’s mangroves have been lost. (These are among an assortment of statistics that are presented in the following piece: The Associated Press “Taking the pulse of the globe,” Newsday 22 April 2005: A48)
- Another article states that in Indonesia, deforestation is progressing at a rate that is the equivalent of “300 football fields an hour.” (Anonymous, “Climate summit itself is scrutinized,” Newsday 5 Dec. 2007: A44)
- “Humans have destroyed more than 30 percent of the natural world since 1970,” begins an article from Guardian Weekly (Paul Brown, 11 Oct. 1998) – which was reprinted in World Press Review (“Depleting the Earth,” Jan. 1999: 37) – “with serious depletion of the forest, freshwater and marine ecosystems on which life depends.” This is according to the “Living Planet Report,” released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the New Economics Foundation, and the WorldConservationMonitoringCenter at Cambridge.
- This next article I will cite was published in The New York Times (Jim Yardley, “Under China’s Booming North, the Future Is Drying Up,” 28 Sept. 2007: A16). It describes a dire situation that exists within China, in a region about the size of New Mexico. According to one study, about five-sixths of its wetlands have dried up. It also states that “several rivers that once were navigable are now mostly dust and brush,” and Lake Baiyangdian, the largest natural freshwater lake in northern China, “is steadily contracting and besieged with pollution.”
- Another 2007 article from The New York Times (Jim Yardley, “Then There Were 2: Turtles’ Fate Shows Threat to China’s Species,” 5 Dec.: 1), also paints a very bleak picture. It states that according to scientists, “almost 40 percent of all mammal species in China are now endangered,” and “70 percent of all nonflowering plant species and 86 percent of flowering species are considered threatened.” If this weren’t bad enough, it also states that China has a goal of “quadrupling its economy by 2020.”
- Each summer, Arctic sea ice shrinks. But in 2007, it did so in a big way: as reported in National Geographic (Chris Carroll, “Polar Bare” Apr. 2008), ice cover shrunk from its previous low (in 2005) “by an area larger than Texas and California combined.”
- This excerpt comes from Science News (S. Simpson, “Fishing trawlers scrape rock bottom,” 19 & 26 Dec. 1998: 388):
Fishing boats in search of shrimp, flounder, and other bottom-dwelling seafood delicacies drag heavily-weighted nets along the seafloor. Creatures not snared are crushed, buried, or exposed to predators. Marine researchers now say such trawling worldwide destroys a seabed area twice the size of the contiguous United States each year.
- Another graphic example of how poorly we are treating this planet, comes from an article published in Parade Magazine (David H. Levy, “A Hidden, Vanishing World,” 6 Jan. 2002: 16). It describes how ship anchors are one widespread way in which humans kill reefs. It states that “Some reefs might have one ship a day dropping an anchor the size of a truck headlong into their delicate coral.” Attached to these anchors, the article states, are “200 yards of chain,” and each link of these chains is “the size of a tire.” These chains do their damage by sweeping across the ocean floor and creating huge dead zones, “in which all coral formations are destroyed.”
- According to an article published in Science News (Janet Raloff, “The Human Numbers Crunch: The next half century promises unprecedented challenges,” 22 Jun. 1996: 396.), “Since 1955, nearly one-third of the world’s cropland – an area larger than China and India combined – has been abandoned because its overuse has led to soil loss, depletion, or degradation.” Finding suitable cultivatable land to replace this lost acreage “accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the world’s deforestation.”
- According to a review published in The New York Times Book Review, written by Dick Teresi (“It’s been Hell on Earth,” 25 Jun. 2000: 22 [a review of J. R. McNeill’s Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World]), we will have used up what remains of the Ogallala Aquifer – which he states it took nature 25,000 years to create – by the year 2030, or even sooner. This shouldn’t sound surprising, considering how long it took for nature to create fossil fuels, which we are also depleting in a similarly rapid fashion.
- In one of a series of articles in the New York Times, dealing with “the climate debate,” “examining the evidence for global warming and its consequences,” this piece I will now cite (Justin Gillis, “The Threats to a Crucial Canopy / Deaths of Forests May Weaken Controls on Heat-Trapping Gas,” 1 Oct. 2011: 1), focuses on problems with the planet’s forests, and points out that this “devastation extends worldwide.” It states, for example, that “the Amazon recently suffered two ‘once in a century’ droughts just five years apart.” Scientists are scrambling to understand this multifaceted problem better, “and to predict how serious it may become.” How important is finding an answer to that question? “Scientists say the future habitability of the Earth might well depend on the answer,” states the article.
- Let me now quote from a column by Robert Reno (“Road to Disaster is Paved With Oil,” Newsday 4 Mar. 2001: F9). He makes several very important points, but there is one in particular which I often like to cite, when encountering those who doubt that man can have an impact on the atmosphere. Reno states that “it requires colossal stupidity to ignore evidence” that global warming “is already happening and that the burning of fossil fuels has something to do with it.” He points out that if you leave a simple four-cylinder car running in a closed garage, and come back and check in a few minutes – “no, don’t sit in the car until you pass out” – “you’ll get a nauseating whiff of what is happening to the earth’s atmosphere as millions of exhausts, power plants, furnaces and smokestacks,” are all discharging their waste into the air, simultaneously.
- An article that appeared in Newsday – with a Los Angeles Times by-line (“Icy proof of pollution” 26 Nov. 2005: 8) – states that a nearly 2-mile-long core of ice, drilled from Antarctica, “shows that levels of two greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, have not been as high as they are today for 650,000 years.” The research, published in the journal Science, provides further evidence that human activity has dramatically altered the planet’s climate system.
- As Niles Eldridge writes in an article published in The New York Times Magazine (“A Field Guide to The Sixth Extinction,” 5 Dec. 1999: 144.), “We are living amid a sixth extinction event,” and then he points out that Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson has estimated we are losing some 30,000 species a year. “Biologists,” Eldridge continues, “estimate that there are at least 10 million species on earth right now. At this rate, the vast majority of the species on earth today will be gone by the next millennium.”
I will note that: (a) many within the scientific community don’t dispute these numbers, and (b) according to these numbers, at this present rate, all of the species on earth today (rather than merely “the vast majority”), will be gone, by the next millennium!
- This following excerpt comes from an article reprinted in the pages of the magazine World Press Review (Peter Benesh, “Canada’s White Whales Are Dying,” Jan. 1989: 56), and was originally published in The Observer (London):
Autopsies show that the pure white whales carry at least 24 different contaminants, including PCBs, achlorobenzene, hexachlorobenzene, heavy metals, mirex, and DDT. The animals have bladder cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, hepatitis, transitional cell carcinoma, and perforated ulcers. Many are so contaminated with PCBs that when they die, their corpses, under Canadian law, must be treated as toxic waste to keep the poison from returning to the environment.
- A New York Times article (Charles Duhigg, “That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy,” 17 Dec. 2009), states that according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates, “only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act,” even though “more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States.” Furthermore, the article states that according to an analysis by The Times, more than 62 million Americans have been exposed, just since 2004, to drinking water that failed to meet even that standard.
- Concerning chemicals, here is some more disturbing news. This comes from a Newsday editorial (“Fix toxic-substances act”), which appeared on February 1, 2010. It states: “In all, of today’s 80,000 chemicals, it [the Environmental Protection Agency] has been able to force testing on only 200 and to regulate only five.”
(Incidentally, as an illustrative example of just how difficult it is to ban potentially dangerous chemicals, I suggest reading the following article: “How Science is Used as a Stall Tactic,” Newsday 25 Feb. 1997: B28-B29. This article – which gives information pertaining to studies testing the safety of the pesticide atrazine – is actually an edited excerpt, taken from the book Toxic Deception: How the Chemical Industry Manipulates Science, Bends the Law, and Endangers Your Health, by Newsday environmental writer Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity.)
- In August of 1997, during the opening ceremonies of the Maccabiah games – an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes – in Israel, a bridge snapped as members of the Australian delegation were marching across. About 60 of them fell into the river below. Two died within hours, and a third succumbed two weeks later. What killed them? Drowning? The fall? No, it was determined the cause of death was swallowing pollution from the river. (Los Angeles Times, “Israel Deaths Toxic,” Newsday 9 Aug. 1997: A26)
- A detailed analysis in Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth (1996), a book by Mathis Wackernagel and William E. Rees, estimates that it requires ten acres of land, per person (living in North America), to support our affluent, wasteful lifestyle.
The “ecological footprint” concept is a powerful way to illustrate the effect our individual and collective actions have on the environment. But while it nicely illustrates the consequences of certain land-use issues, I don’t believe, for example, that it can adequately portray, or factor in, all facets of pollution issues. Also, another deep concern I have is this: people can find ways for reducing their “footprint,” and in so doing, believe they have “done their part” – much in the same way people often believe they have “done their part,” simply by placing their recyclables at the curb, once a week – when, in reality, we need to break away from such minimalistic thinking.
Incidentally, there are many reasons pollution is a difficult issue to portray in terms of a “footprint.” For example: how do you integrate air pollution, with the footprint concept; also, some forms of pollution might be mainly visual (like a glass bottle, that has been discarded on a beach), but some are toxic – and some are even highly toxic; some forms of pollution leach into aquifers, rivers or estuaries – over a period of months, years, decades, or centuries – while others don’t pose such risk; some (nuclear, radioactive) remain in a state of potential toxicity for thousands (or even several tens of thousands) of years (or more); some forms of pollution or waste will biodegrade or degrade over time – but some won’t; even something as seemingly innocuous as fertilizer, could be deemed a pollutant, insomuch as its constituent parts – nitrogen and phosphorous – can accumulate, and cause problems; and where do you draw the line between whether or not something should be deemed a pollutant (e.g. might that be dependent upon whether science has advanced to a point where that determination can be made)? These are just some of the reasons why the issue of pollution is such a difficult one to illustrate in terms of a “footprint.”
- Garbage is something people almost never think about, but to give just one illustration of how big an issue this is, consider the following. Remember when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Remember all the devastation that resulted from that? I remember reading in an article in the New York Times (Jennifer Medina, “In New Orleans, the Trashman Will Have to Move Mountains,” 16 Oct. 2005: 28), that it would “take at least 3.5 million truckloads to haul” away the 22 million tons of waste that state officials estimate resulted from that hurricane. And that’s from just one city on this planet, after just one catastrophic event. Three and a half million truckloads!
- These two excerpts below come from an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine (Robert Sullivan, “I Sing the Meadowlands!,” 15 Feb. 1998: 35). The article is adapted from Sullivan’s book The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City, which was published by Scribner. I find these two excerpts to be particularly unforgettable:
Once, on a canoe trip I got stuck in a body of water so polluted that when I touched the paddle to the bottom, huge cabbage-like clumps of garbage floated up to release a scent that I thought for sure was going to cause me to throw up.
And now juxtapose that above image with the following – another excerpt from the same article:
A French visitor in the late 1700’s called Newark “the most beautiful village on the continent,” and landscape painters painted sunsets on the meadows.
Those two experiences are polar opposites. And to go a step further, according to the article, public-health historians say that by the mid-1800’s, Newark was the unhealthiest city in America.
How can that happen? How can a city go from being described as “the most beautiful village on the continent,” to “the unhealthiest city in America?” It’s simple. Just look in the mirror. Now multiply that by over 7,000,000,000. What we are doing to the planet, so too we have done to Newark. One of the more eloquent ways I’ve heard it put – this comes from a published letter to Newsday, by a Joseph Dlhopolsky, of Port Jefferson Station, NY (29 Jun. 1995: A45) – went like this: “Like the gypsy moth caterpillars devouring our oak trees, burgeoning human population is ravaging the planet.” If you’ve ever witnessed a gypsy moth-infested tree, you would appreciate this metaphor. It’s very fitting. And just as a gypsy moth caterpillar doesn’t care about the tree it is destroying, I witness far too much ignorance and lack of remorse for what we are doing to the planet, among members of my own species.
- To better appreciate the depth of the environmental crisis we are now in (and the ostrich-like stance we have assumed), it helps to be familiar with what has been termed the “impossibility theorem.” To explain what this is, and its relevance, I will quote from an article which was reprinted in Newsday (Charles Birch, “Rich Can Aid the Poor By Living Less Lavishly,” 11 Apr. 1990: 63) – it was originally published in The Los Angeles Times. The article states that “world economic systems still operate as if injustice and poverty will cease,” if we “let everyone, rich and poor, grow in wealth together as fast as they can.” But the problem is the Earth’s resources are limited, and the planet’s ability to cope with pollution is also limited. If every nation in the world were to consume resources at the same rate rich nations such as the United States are consuming resources, it would be ecologically disastrous. Yet that is precisely the direction in which we are rapidly moving.
- Gwynne Dyer, writing for the Toronto Star – in an article reprinted in World Press Review (“The Odds of Saving the Planet,” Oct. 1989)—gave this chilling assessment: “The problems are huge, and we probably have no better than even odds of getting through the next 50 years without suffering multiple catastrophes, on an unparalleled scale, all over the planet. The possibility of human extinction within a period of one or two centuries remains quite conceivable.”
- As quoted in Newsday (Kristine McKenna, “Mind on Film,” 26 Aug. 1992: 63), filmmaker Errol Morris (whose documentary film “A Brief History of Time,” was based on, and titled after, a best-selling book by Stephen Hawking), has stated the following about Stephen Hawking:
“Stephen once said one of the most pessimistic things I’ve ever heard when someone asked him why we haven’t heard intelligent signals from outer space. He replied that though we consider ourselves an advanced civilization, we’re the same as we were in the jungle – our DNA hasn’t changed at all in thousands of years. The only thing that’s changed is our destructive ability, which has increased millions and millions fold. He concluded that perhaps we haven’t heard those signals, because when a civilization has reached the point ours has reached, it destroys itself.”
- This next excerpt comes from a column published in Newsday, by syndicated columnist Liz Smith (“A Vision of the Future,” 22 Oct. 2001: 15):
Cambridge University scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most famous cosmologist, says that the human race is likely to be wiped out before the millennium is over unless we set up colonies in space. He says that biology, not physics, presents the biggest challenge to human survival. “The danger is that either by accident or design, we will create a virus that destroys us.” That’s his direct quote.
- The following quote is taken from an article that was published in Newsday (The Associated Press, “Space, the final frontier, may save man,” 14 June 2006: A6). According to Cambridge University professor Stephen Hawking – perhaps best known for his best-selling book A Brief History of Time – “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.”
- As the National Academy of Sciences committee perceptively pointed out, all the way back in the early 1980’s, (and I’m somewhat paraphrasing here) “Human capacity to perturb the environment has outstripped our ability to anticipate the impact.” This is just as true today. The Law of Unintended Consequences looms large in everything we do.
- This comes from an interview with Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason), which was posted online at Amazon.com (Thomas May conducted the interview, which was titled “Interview with Sam Harris: The Mortal Dangers of Religious Faith”):
I am not as optimistic as I’d like to be. It is an interesting state to be in, psychologically speaking, because I feel very motivated to make the case against religion, but I don’t see any real basis for hope that anything will change for the better. It seems very likely that we have spent too long in the company of bad ideas to now arrest our slide toward the brink. I hope I’m wrong about this, but I would not be surprised if the human experiment runs radically off the rails in our lifetime.
The fact that we elect presidents who waste time on things like [opposing] gay marriage, when the nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union lie unsecured (to cite only one immediate threat to our survival), is emblematic of how disastrously off course we are (it is also emblematic of the role faith plays in forcing us off course).
- This comes from an Amazon.com editorial review of Sam Harris’s book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. The reviewer is Ed Dobeas. Here is just a small part of what Dobeas wrote in his review:
Simply stated, any belief system that speaks with assurance about the hereafter has the potential to place far less value on the here and now. And thus the corollary – when death is simply a door translating us from one existence to another, it loses its sting and finality. Harris pointedly asks us to consider that those who do not fear death for themselves, and who also revere ancient scriptures instructing them to mete it out generously to others, may soon have these [nuclear] weapons in their own hands.
This reminds me of how Maureen Dowd once began her New York Times column:
Not long after Sep. 11, somebody scribbled these chillingly profound words on a wall in Washington: “Dear God, save us from the people who believe in you.”
- An article that appeared in Newsday (Lester Paldy, “The Nuclear Threat Can’t Be Ignored,” 19 Nov. 2001: 27), approximately two months after 9/11, stated that “in 1998, a former Russian security official testified in Congress that 43 ‘suitcase-sized’ nuclear weapons were missing from the Russian arsenal.” (This allegation has not been confirmed.)
- In a column that appeared in Newsday (“New Kind of War Requires New Responses,” 16 Oct. 2001: 43), about one month after 9/11, columnist John Keegan states that “there are said to be 10,000 nuclear scientists in the former Soviet lands who are now unemployed, underpaid or in salary arrears.” He then goes on to suggest that “all must be seen as” potentially being “open to temptation.”
- It was reported in Newsday (The Associated Press, “Arab Reporter: Al-Qaida Had Targeted Nuke Plants,” 9 Sept. 2002: 12), that according to an Arab television reporter, who said he interviewed two al-Qaida leaders, they originally had planned to fly hijacked jets into U.S. nuclear facilities, on Sept. 11.
- As President Obama has ironically pointed out, while “the threat of global nuclear war has gone down,” the risk of nuclear attack has gone up. Here is the exact quote from President Barack Obama (April 6, 2009): “In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black market trade in nuclear secrets and nuclear materials abound. The technology to build a bomb has spread.”
- According to a 2007 Gallop poll, about one-third of the American electorate believe the Bible is literally true, whereas only about one in five believe it is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history, and moral precepts.” One in three … versus one in five. I find that deeply unsettling; and I greatly fear for posterity, and for the future of this planet, whenever I read stuff like that.
- Deforestation is an all-too familiar theme all around the world; and here is one such example. Speaking specifically about the Ivory Coast, an article published in Newsday (The Associated Press, “Losing a Battle to Save Rain Forests,” 9 Feb. 1999: C7) quotes World Bank biodiversity expert Jean-Michel Pavy, as stating “You know that things have gone very, very wrong,” when only 5 million to 7 million acres of forest remain from the original 70 million acres.
- According to a 1996 article, published in The New York Times (Seth Mydans, “Thai Shrimp Farmers Facing Ecologists’ Fury,” 28 Apr. 1996: 3), the United Nations Environmental Program, had calculated that half of the world’s mangrove forests – forests that once covered as much as three-quarters of the world’s tropical shorelines – have been lost. The article further states that shrimp farming might be responsible for one-fourth of this destruction. How can shrimp farms cause such damage? Due to “heavy doses of chemicals and antibiotics, over-stocked conditions and high rate of toxicity and disease,” the ponds “have an average life span of less than five years.” Then, “much in the manner of slash-and-burn farmers, shrimp farmers simply march down the coastline, leaving hundreds of poisonous brown blotches in their wake.”
- In Thurston Clarke’s review of Richard Ellis’ The Empty Ocean: Plundering the World’s Marine Life, published in The New York Times Book Review (“Sea of Troubles: Richard Ellis describes the largely unseen devastation of marine life” 25 May 2003: 14), he states that “bycatch” is “a term the fishing industry prefers over ‘trash fish’ (much as the Pentagon prefers ‘collateral damage’ to ‘dead civilians’)” and speculates that “a diner leaving the salad bar with a one-pound plate of shrimp in one hand could also be said to be balancing in the other an imaginary platter heaped with at least eight pounds (and probably more) of eels, urchins, crabs, flounder, porgies, lizardfish, batfish and butterfish.” Rays, starfish, coral, sponges and horse conches, are also mentioned as being victims of these shrimp nets.
Elsewhere in this review, Clarke reveals this shocking assertion: “Walk along a resort beach in Baja California and you would never guess that offshore, in areas where a half century earlier divers found 4,000 abalones per acre, they can now find only one per acre.”
- This next article I will cite – which appeared in The New York Times (Philip Shenon, “A Pacific Island Nation Is Stripped of Everything,” 10 Dec. 1995: 3) – describes how the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, once phosphate rich (from the mass accumulation of bird droppings), has been strip-mined for decades to the point where “almost nothing remains.” The phosphate was exported away, to be used as fertilizer. In the words of one Nauru resident:
“I wish we’d never discovered that phosphate,” said Rev. James Aingimea. “I wish Nauru could be like it was before. When I was a boy, it was so beautiful. There were trees. It was green everywhere, and you could eat the fresh coconuts and breadfruit. Now I see what has happened here and I want to cry. … It would be very sad to leave our native island. But what else can we do? The land of our ancestors has been destroyed.”
- This next article, from the pages of Newsday (Mohamad Bazzi, “City Waits for Fuse to Be Lit, 29 Sept. 2001: 40), describes another problem being felt around the world; as populations swell, this in turn overburdens freshwater resources:
“The refugees changed everything. Twenty years ago, this was a small town. Now, there are refugees everywhere,” said Anwar Rahim, 46, a Quetta [Pakistan] native, winding his way through the city’s bazaar. “This area used to be lush and green. Now it’s like a desert because the water levels dropped so much.”
- An article published in The New York Times (Tim Weiner, “Growing Poverty is Shrinking Mexico’s Rain Forest,” 8 Dec. 2002: 16), states that since 1972, more than two-thirds of Mexico’s Lacandon forest has been sawed down, and as seen in satellite images, it “shrinks every year, like a lake slowly going dry.” Again, this isn’t just happening in Mexico, it’s happening to ecosystems all around the world.
- An article published in The New York Times (Rick Bragg, “On Florida Key, Butterfly is Making Its Last Stand,” 15 Dec. 2002: 41), describes how easy it is for a species as endangered as the Miami blue butterfly, to vanish completely (read the article to learn why this particular species is of special interest to scientists):
It is the fact that the butterflies exist in only one place that puts them at such risk. The species could vanish in a hurricane or a smaller storm, or be wiped out by a parasite or predators. If there are as few butterflies left as scientists fear, a flock of birds could wipe them out, or an errant mosquito-fogging truck – or even one too many well-meaning collectors or clumsy tourists.
- An article that appeared in The New York Times (Andrew C. Revkin, “Asia Dolphin, Feared Dying, Is Thriving” 2 Apr. 2009: 8), states that one species of river dolphin, the baiji, “that thrived in the Yangtze River for 20 million years in what is today China,” was driven into extinction – experts, it says, came to that conclusion in 2007. It also states that nearly half a billion people live along that region. Doesn’t it speak volumes when a species that has thrived for 20 million years, is driven into extinction by modern man? [Note: The article title refers to a different dolphin species, not the baiji.]
- I will now quote from a letter, to students, which was published in Newsday (“Question Everything and Take a Stand,” 29 Nov. 2003: 22), on the “Student Briefing Page.” Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill – author of One Makes the Difference – composed the letter. In the late 1990’s, she spent more than two years in a 1,000-year-old giant redwood tree, to protest against logging in the western United States. Some of those trees are between 2,000 to 3,000 years old. She writes about how when she first entered the redwood forests of California, she “was completely blown away by their beauty, by their majesty,” and was “completely disgusted and saddened,” when she discovered that “we have destroyed 97 percent of them in the last 100 years and still are logging them to this day.” She states that she “was angered that our society would be so blind as to destroy these forests, which truly belong to all generations.”
- An article published in Newsday (Rebecca Perl, “The Panther’s Shrinking Backyard” 14 May 2002: D1), describes the plight of the panther – considered one of the world’s most endangered mammals. They once roamed six states, but now, according to the article, only about 80 panthers survive, in five Florida counties. I remember once reading that some 1,000 people a day are moving to Florida (a prime retirement destination). But while the human population in Florida explodes, the panther population implodes.
- Let me finally conclude with this. This comes from an op-ed piece published in Newsday, by the author of the book Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century (Philip Shabecoff, “Environmentalists Need to Bulk Up” 21 Apr. 2000: 45.):
The environmental movement has been viewed by many as the cutting edge of a new postindustrial, postmodern society. But it has made barely a dent in the old pattern of mass production and consumption, dangerous technologies, and the misuse of land and resources and a political system that serves the interests of those who feed it money.
I find these words to be every bit as pertinent and true today. It’s as though we still haven’t even taken that very first step. And like sand through an hourglass, time is running out …